Abdominal pain is a common symptom that nearly everyone will experience in their life. Often, it is not a cause for concern, but in some instances it is a sign of illness. Recognizing when abdominal pain is no longer minor and requires diagnosis and treatment is important.
Causes of Abdominal Pain
The causes of abdominal pain can be numerous, and its severity can vary from mild to sharp. In urology, this symptom is often brought on by a urinary tract infection or urinary tract stones.
Urinary Tract Infection
While there may be other causes, urinary tract infections (UTIs) are a common source behind abdominal pain. They occur when bacteria (often E. coli) enter the urethra, the tube responsible for passing urine outside of the body. When the bacteria is introduced, it can spread through the urinary tract and lead to an infection.
Infections generally occur in the bladder, the kidneys, or in men, the prostate. Women are more susceptible to UTIs as a result of having a shorter urethra. Sexual intercourse may increase this risk, as can becoming pregnant. For men, a UTI may result due to prostate enlargement (benign prostatic hyperplasia), if the gland presses into the urethra and blocks the flow of urine. When it comes to both sexes, a number of other contributors can lead to the onset of an infection. They include:
- Kidney stones
Urinary Tract Stones
Mineral and acid salts are naturally contained within urine. When urine becomes concentrated due to diet or dehydration, the substances—calcium oxalate, calcium phosphate, uric acid, cystine or struvite—can crystallize and combine to form a hard stone. The most common are kidney stones, followed by bladder stones. As the stones move along the urinary tract, abdominal pain can set in. Particularly with kidney stones, discomfort is often felt in the flank area (between the ribs and the hip) as they move into and through the tubes that transport urine from the kidneys to the bladder (ureters).
While the above are related to urology, there are non-urological conditions that can result in abdominal pain, including:
- Menstrual cramps
- Food poisoning or food allergies
- Stomach virus
- Pelvic inflammatory disease
- Inflammatory bowel disease, such as Chron's
- Gastroesophageal reflux
Symptoms Associated with Abdominal Pain
When abdominal pain is severe, contacting a physician is necessary to rule out or diagnose a condition. The same is true if the following accompany abdominal pain:
- Pain lasts for multiple days
- Vomiting and/or unable to hold down food for several days
- Painful or frequent urination (sign of UTI)
- Inability to eliminate stool
Diagnosing the Cause of Abdominal Pain
When confronted with abdominal pain, there are many different conditions that cause discomfort, and they can be difficult to diagnose when the majority of symptoms tend to be either vague or generalized. However, once the cause has been ruled out, or when symptoms point toward the urological system, the list of potential causes can be narrowed down considerably.
A physical examination is typically the first step to making a diagnosis, followed by a variety of tests, including:
- CT scan: uses X-rays to create a visual of the structures inside the abdomen
- Ultrasound: uses sound waves to produce images of the organs inside the abdomen
- Endoscopy: uses a tube with a light source and camera at its tip to see inside the abdomen
- MRI: uses a magnetic field and radio wave energy to make images of the structures and organs inside the abdomen
- Blood tests
- Stool or urine tests
- Abdominal X-rays
Treating Abdominal Pain
The mode used to treat abdominal pain depends on its cause. Medication, lifestyle changes, and surgery are options that may be implored.
Medical tests for prostate problems. (2012). National Kidney and Urologic Diseases Information Clearinghouse. NIH Publication No. 12–5105
Urology tests and procedures: Kidney, ureter, and bladder x-ray. Johns Hopkins Health Library.
Urology tests and procedures: Computed tomography scan of the kidney. Johns Hopkins Health Library.
Diseases and conditions: Diagnostic and evaluation procedures. Johns Hopkins Health Library.